One of the first U.S. servicemen to give his life in battle during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 was a rifleman with the Marines, Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez. The story of this young recruit who fought with heroism and courage on behalf of our country and who lost his life in a firefight close to Umm Qasr, Iraq, didn’t begin in an American city or town.
Lance Cpl. Gutierrez was born near Guatemala City, Guatemala, orphaned at 8 years old, and grew up as a “street child.” Seeking a better life, he trekked 3,000 miles as a teenager to America where he lived as a foster child and dreamed of a new beginning. Gutierrez “wanted to give the United States what the United States gave to him.” He signed up to fight for his adopted country. He was granted citizenship posthumously.
Immigrants have been fighting for our country since the Revolutionary War. From the Irish immigrants who fought during the War of 1812, to the nearly one-fourth of immigrants who fought to save the country during the Civil War, to the half-million immigrants who fought during World War I, to the major contributions immigrants made to war efforts in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the War on Terror, foreign-born recruits have bolstered our armed services abroad and made us safer here at home. In 2016, some 511,000 U.S. veterans were foreign-born.
That’s why on Veterans Day here in Texas, it would be prudent for President Trump, Congressman John Carter and Congressman Roger Williams to consider the unnecessary legal barriers to the enlistment of skilled foreign-born residents so that it becomes easier, not harder, to keep our country safe. Thousands of willing service members remain blocked from fighting for our country. Young undocumented immigrants — Dreamers — who were brought to the United States as kids and have grown up in this country would be willing to serve in the military. But right now, almost all cannot.
It makes no sense.
Thus far, Waco native Joe Barton, a longtime conservative Republican in Congress, and Republican Congressman Bill Flores, who represents Waco, are the sole Texas GOP co-sponsors of the Recognizing America’s Children Act, which would provide legal status to young undocumented immigrants who work full-time, enroll in school or serve in our military. If Carter and Williams vote to pass legislation to legalize the status of Dreamers, and President Trump signs it, the military would benefit from the addition of thousands of high-qualified recruits. Leaders at the highest level of our armed services have urged Congress to take action. The president has shown a willingness to get this done.
Now is the time.
Considering that one in five Medal of Honor recipients is an immigrant, common-sense immigration reform policies that expand the number of people who can fight for our country will strengthen national security and military readiness. And today, our military faces significant recruitment challenges while at the same time young people who lack immigration status are lining up to enlist.
In fact, the Center for Naval Analyses catalogued this need in a 2011 report. They listed three reasons immigrants are important to the military. First, the number of recruitable non-citizens in the United States in the desired age range is quite large, at approximately 1.2 million; second, immigrants possess skills critically needed in the armed forces, including language diversity and cultural competencies that support strategic interests; and third, non-citizen recruits have far lower attrition rates and are much less likely to leave early in their service, saving critical time and money.
Let me put it a different way. To keep America secure in a dangerous world, immigrants ready and willing to enlist are needed more than ever. And legislation to offer Dreamers that opportunity is well within Congress’ grasp. They would follow in the footsteps of Lance Cpl. Gutierrez, who told his adopted mother when he joined the military: “I’ll give my life if I have to.”
On this Veterans Day, let’s also think about the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have served for the love of their new country.